Issue(s): Quasar #11
We don't actually see Marrina's Plodex children, but the issue starts with him trying to find some alien lifeforms that he's detected under the sea, and then wondering if Sub-Mariner knows about them (knows about them? He should be paying child support!).
Quasar then sees a tidal wave and determines that it was created artificially, and then detects "tachyons" (which a footnote defines as hypothetical faster-than-light particles). He finds a guy running at super-speed across the water.
I think it's funny that Quasar thinks it's ok to stop the guy. What if it was Quicksilver (or even Makkari) running to get a bomb away from a civilized area or something? Anyway, Quasar doesn't recognize the guy as Makkari, but when he brings him over to the West Coast Avengers to be treated by Keith Kincaid, they tell him.
Meanwhile, a mysterious entity is looking in on Captain Britain at Excalibur's lighthouse, and is surprised to learn that he's joined a team of super-powered individuals. The entity considers possessing one of them, ruling out Captain Britain himself because his powers have changed "since we last fought" and he's now impervious to his magicks. The entity then rules out Nightcrawler for not being powerful enough, and then briefly considers Meggan but settles on Phoenix.
Back to Quasar, who has returned to his civilian identity as Wendell Vaughan and went to work, where a H.D. Steckley is asking for a job.
Vaughan's company only has one client at the moment, which is probably barely enough to keep the current team employed. But Vaughan agrees that if she can bring in five additional customers, she's hired. "H.D." stands for Heather Douglas, and as Moondragon she probably won't have any problem forcing five companies to become customers.
After Steckley leaves, Quasar goes to his private office and checks in on the space turnip in his closet.
"I acknowledge your imminence" is my new favorite way to greet people.
Eon tells Quasar that something is up with Phoenix.
That's all the definition of the Phoenix Force that we're going to be getting in this isssue.
It turns out that the entity possessing Phoenix is Modred the Mystic. He uses the Phoenix Force to bring himself back into our world.
Quasar shows up, telling both Modred and Phoenix to "hold it right there" because he's "here to see what all the fireworks were about".
In this case, there's definitely a need for a super-hero, but i can't help feel like Quasar acts like a buttinsky. Even if we don't want to go with the depiction of the white male authoritarian showing up to demand that mutants show him their papers, there's at least potential for a Monty Python-esque sequence.
Quasar: Hold it right there! I'm the universal protector!
Anyway, like i said, in this case the intervention of a super-hero is entirely merited. Modred has Phoenix attack Quasar. Quasar is able to at least partially tap into the Phoenix Force to redirect her energies.
But he's not able to break out of Modred's Bands of Cytorrak.
Modred leaves him there to die. Quasar is working out how to locate some iron and bring it to him, hoping that will break the bands. But the rest of Excalibur show up and Captain Britain is able to tear the bands apart.
Thanks to some hasty exposition from Nightcrawler, the heroes agree to all Team-Up and go after Modred.
While he was trapped, Quasar asked Eon to pull up his information on magic, but it was too slow to help. Eon gets back to him as they're flying into the rematch battle, but Quasar tells him "not now". I dunno, you'd think Quasar might want to hear about how to handle magic before going into battle with the wizard again.
For the rematch, Quasar is able to funnel Phoenix's attacks so that they blast Modred. This causes Modred to call off Phoenix's attack.
Then Nightcrawler teleports into action and has widget dump Modred in an unspecified different dimension.
Quasar's "Oh." says a lot. So you guys solve your problems by dumping them in other dimensions and then not worrying because it will be "quite some time" before he can get back? Great. Nightcrawler looks so happy in those panels that Quasar keeps those thoughts to himself, though.
In the end, Quasar is not really happy about how things went, and so he still doesn't want to hear about magic.
He shouldn't be so hard on himself. If he had been there in the early part of the Dark Phoenix saga, things might have gone a lot differently.
After writing my review of Excalibur #25 where i wrote that Chris Claremont's (vague) revelations about Phoenix were probably not done in coordination with Marvel's chief continuity guys like Mark Gruenwald, i picked up this issue and then wondered if i was going to have to eat crow. But the nature of Phoenix isn't discussed in this issue (beyond looking at the degree to which Quasar is able to channel her/its powers). If anything, i'm disappointed that Quasar's reaction to the Phoenix is so muted. He's charged with searching for the alien menace that will try to kill Eon. The Phoenix Force is certainly powerful enough to fit the bill, and if a "two-bit magician" like Modred can take control of Rachel and gain control of the Phoenix, that seems worthy of more than shrugging your shoulders and moving on. I'm not saying he should arrest Rachel or anything, just that he might want to make a note to keep track of her in some way or maybe ask Eon what the Phoenix is all about.
A somewhat related item is brought up by a letter in this issue's lettercol. A reader asks if the "universal threat" that Quasar is searching for is Thanos (who recently returned) or Nebula (who was (seemingly) involved in universe threatening plots in two separate books this year). And the answer is nope, this is a different universal threat. It's comics, of course, but it's funny how many threats to the universe there are.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Takes place after Excalibur is back from the Cross-Time Caper. I've pushed this back in publication time because Quasar #12 has to take place before Avengers #319.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showCaptain Britain, Eon, Kayla Ballantine, Kenjiro Tanaka, Makkari, Meggan, Modred the Mystic, Moondragon, Nightcrawler, Quasar, Rachel Summers, USAgent, Widget, Wonder Man
Gruenwald described how he came up with this story here:
Posted by: Michael | May 15, 2015 7:41 PM
Shouldn't that be "eminence"?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 15, 2015 8:45 PM
No i'm pretty sure Gruenwald meant imminence. I took it to be an emotionless noncommittal greeting, like "I acknowledge that you are approaching."
Posted by: fnord12 | May 15, 2015 8:55 PM
Michael, thanks for sharing that. I think it's really great of Gruenwald that he chose to divulge his process. To be a little more critical though, i think it's really revealing how completely plot driven it is. Tons of care devoted to making sure that this month's villain is different than that month's villain, but all the concerns in the story are about how this power beats that power and how this stock character that is being introduced is the opposite of the other stock character. There's no concern about character development or any kind of overarching themes. The only thing that can remotely be described as character movement is because editor Howard Mackie told him that Quasar has been adjusting too easily, so he ties that in with the "this power beats that power" thing and makes Quasar sad at the end. Quasar's time as a person is called a "secret identity interlude". Gruenwald specifically says that he's not following a formula but the process he describes sounds like that exactly.
This really confirms a lot of what i've thought about Gruenwald (or maybe i'm just bringing my biases to this): he's really good at plotting out a solid super-hero story and he takes tons of care to see that it fits into continuity and that he's using all aspects of the Marvel universe. And that's great. But there's no attempt to "write". No getting into the head of Quasar. No trying to follow a theme of some kind (like, i don't know, the burden of responsibility on a young man trying to stake out a place for himself in the world). No ideas to explore.
I'd love it if this was an exercise more writers did (so that i can tear them apart 40 years later?). I'd love to see one of these by Ann Nocenti, who i feel like is all ideas and themes and very little plot or continuity, and i'd love to see one by Roger Stern, who i think manages to strike a balance between all these things.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 15, 2015 10:18 PM
Gru does say, however, that he tried to write established series like Cap in a more organic, character-driven fashion. In fact, his Cap run will ultimately go awry because of it: Gru winds up with a great characterization for the Red Skull but never figures out any good plots for him--the thing with Viper, for example, goes nowhere at all.
A better writer would keep Quasar on-topic, plotwise, while doing more character work. But all this dull, Silver Age-y setup that we have to suffer through for 18 months is leading to what I think is one of the coolest stories Gru ever wrote, and one with some very good character moments.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 16, 2015 2:00 AM
Yeah, the story that starts in issue 19 is my favorite in all of comics history.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 16, 2015 2:29 AM
When you get to issue 30, see if you can figure out if this is actually Moondragon or if there was an original H.D. Steckley that Moondragon disguised herself as who appears here. You'll understand what I mean when you get there. There is another weird revelation that happens after that..
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | May 19, 2015 2:00 AM
"Turnips floating in space distributing titles is no basis for a system of government."
LOL... Often your commentary is much more entertaining that the actual comic book stories that you're looking at!
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 31, 2015 5:55 PM
Gotta love that picture of Rachel Summers. Nothing says mind-controlled-feral-mutant-hunter-from-an-apocalyptic-alternate-future better than four-inch heels.
Posted by: Andrew | November 18, 2016 5:36 PM
Also, nothing says "Claremont character" better than "wears a red spiked leather bondage suit with built-in four inch heels".
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | November 18, 2016 7:50 PM
I think Gruenwald makes a crucial mistake here by the inclusion of Makkari as part of Quasar's supporting cast. First, I firmly believe that a supporting cast should be made up of normal people, not other super powered types. The purpose of a supporting cast is to ground the fantastical main character to the real world. It both humanizes them and juxtaposes the mundane with the fantastic so that the hero seems even grander.
However, I think the main problem is that Gruenwald doesn't want to write a solo book. He wants to write a team book. Not only do we get Makkari, we are also getting Moondragon as it turns out. Then the Squadron Supreme seems to become a permanent addition to the book. And stuff from Gruenwald's New Universe days are likewise brought in. Over time, this ends up distracting the title away from its lead. Gruenwald does a similar thing to Captain America by getting rid of his old cast and basically replacing them with Cap's old apprentice/partner heroes and introducing new ones or "support crew" for his hero work. Gruenwald just doesn't know what to do with normal people in his books. His superheroes interact mostly with other superpowered people.
What would be a strength in team-up style books (like his old stint at MTIO) becomes a major weakness in his writing here.
Posted by: Chris | September 5, 2017 3:53 PM
I read Quasar on and off in real time, and was never especially fond of it. All these years later it's interesting to read fnord's reviews and the various comments. It offers a real insight into why this series never quite worked. Obviously there's the problem that Quasar is supposedly the Protector of the Universe, but he ends up getting sidelined during a bunch of cosmic crises, including all the stuff with Thanos and the Magus and the Goddess, because Jim Starlin wanted to write Adam Warlock as the smartest man in the room.
But, as fnord observes here, there's also the significant fact that Gruenwald just writes everything so blandly and by-the-numbers, in a really analytical tone. Quasar as scripted by Gruenwald is, I now realize, sort of a dull guy. Gru saddles him with a secret identity & day job & civilian supporting cast because, hey, that's what nearly every Silver and Bronze Age super-hero has! Quasar is also very matter-the-fact, almost blasé, about all of these entities & events that ought to instead be leaving him awestruck.
A lot of Gru's writing for this book also read more like HandBook of the Marvel Universe entries than actual stories. He seemed much less interested in telling exciting adventures than in precisely quantifying every single aspect of the Marvel cosmos, and how each & every cosmic being related to one another, and so on.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 29, 2018 1:54 PM
I cannot help but contrast this with Abnett & Lanning's work on Annihilation / Guardians of the Galaxy / The Thanos Imperative. DnA really excelled at putting everyman type characters into these situations of brutal intergalactic war and cosmic disasters and reality being torn asunder, and making it feel authentic. The reason Starlord and Rocket Raccoon and the rest of those guys are constantly cracking bad jokes is because they know that they are in waaaaaay over their heads, and they are using cornball humor to keep from losing their minds. They're not at all blasé about any of this stuff.
There's a scene in The Thanos Imperative where Galactus and a bunch of other major cosmic entities assemble alongside a massive armada made up of the Shi'ar, Kree, Xandar and other alien empires to drive back the invading monstrosities of the Cancerverse which are pouring in through a rip in the fabric of reality itself, and it's depicted as this awesome and horrifying confrontation. The last thing anyone does is whip out their copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica to start explaining in a scholarly tone what all of this means, because everyone is too busy trying not to go catatonic.
By the way, Quasar happens to be right in the midst of all of this, and he's written much better by DnA than he ever was by Gru.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 29, 2018 2:08 PM
As a writer, Gruenwald makes a fine editor. He has his strengths, but I would rate him a notch above Bill Mantlo. He's at the lesser tier of Marvel creators. He's adequate in most respects, and sometimes his stories are very good. But most are pedestrian, and some simply awful. I think he needs a strong collaborator especially in regards to villain plots. He works best when working on an established character with all the toys already created for him. He's much weaker establishing a new character - which is what Quasar is as a solo title character even though he's been around for a while.
I've given my opinions on what the Quasar title actually needed to become a good title on various issues (including this one). For a supposedly cosmic character, he just does not have the kind of adventures he needs. The situation on Earth that Gru established for him goes against that. Running a business instead of being out in space? Kayla and Kenji instead of someone working at Starcore or Pegasus as a supporting cast? Eon is in his closet instead of Titan or Blue Area on the moon? Some earthbound adventures are fine, but he really needs to be out there in the cosmos.
Posted by: Chris | May 29, 2018 5:23 PM
I feel sort of bad criticizing Gruenwald. It's obvious that Quasar meant a lot to him. Gru obviously put a great deal of thought into the character, and really wanted him to succeed. I just feel, in hindsight, that Gru was just too traditional a writer to really think enough out of the box to be able to really explore and develop the cosmic "Protector of the Universe" aspect, to do something to make Quasar really stand out from the rest of Marvel's characters.
I am not saying that would have been especially easy to do that, to break out of the traditional late-1980s Marvel mold and experiment, but it was possible. I mean, in the previous several years there was X-Men by Claremont (both with and without Byrne), Fantastic Four by Byrne, Daredevil by Miller, Thor by Simonson, FF by Simonson, and Avengers by Stern, runs which pushed boundaries, that were acclaimed at the time, and all these decades later still remain very well-regarded.
And, yeah, it doesn't escape me that Stern's acclaimed run on Avengers was abruptly cut shot because Gruenwald ordered that Captain America once again become the team's chairman.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 29, 2018 9:31 PM
What stands out for me the most is that back when I was in my teens I *really* enjoyed Gruenwald's writing, but nowadays, in my early 40s, a lot of it now strikes me as somewhat underwhelming, or at least average. I guess that's fine, because Gru was probably writing for a teenage audience. The thing is, the work of those other creators (Claremont, Byrne, Miller, Simonson, Stern) is that much of it still entertains me as an adult.
I have to agree with Chris' comment above that Gru was "a notch above Bill Mantlo." Gru did solid, often good, writing, but only rarely anything especially remarkable. Much of his work on Quasar falls into the "perfectly acceptable" category for me.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 29, 2018 9:48 PM
I'd argue that stories like Avengers #185-7 make a good case for the whole "Gruenwald's a good plotter, but needs a characterization-driven scripter or co-plotter" idea.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | May 30, 2018 6:39 AM
So, would you prefer it if Quasar was completely interchangeable with Darkhawk and Sleepwalker?
The analytical aspect, the exploration of the Cosmos through quantifying logic, the Handbook through stories... those are what gave the series a voice different to whatever else. At least in the first 29 issues or so, it works and Gruenwald balances it well with Quasar and provides a good reason for having him on Earth.
And it certainly wasn't the case Quasar lacked character... the stuff with his father, his torture at the hands of Maelstrom, his pleading with Death in #49, even the loss of Kayla in the final issues. There was plenty of stuff going on and Quasar dealing with it almost analytically, like everything else, or melodramatically... that WAS his personality, not a lack of personality.
It's not a perfect series but I don't see it as a bland D-list book written by an editor trying to be a writer like Cage or Nightwatch were or a by-the-numbers new title launch like the aforementioned Darkhawk and Sleepwalker.
I also disagree vehemently with DnA writing the character better (they wrote him the same as every other character; cynical and sarcastic) but that's not for here.
Posted by: AF | May 30, 2018 6:43 AM
I rate Gruenwald as a better writer than the authors of those books. Bob Budiansky, Danny Fingeroth, Gregory Wright, and Terry Kavanagh are all worse than Mantlo in my opinion (individually they can be anywhere from bland to atrocious). Their work is often derivative, lacks imagination, and is missing sufficient craft. Some have occasional good ideas, but can't sustain a series. I avoided any books they wrote, but occasionally got suckered by fill ins.
There were some enjoyable stories on Quasar before the crossover rot set in, but I feel Gruenwald made some mistakes that prevented the book from being very good overall as opposed to a few stellar issues surrounded by adequacy and the occasional clunker. I think some relatively minor changes could have knocked it up a tier.
Posted by: Chris | May 30, 2018 12:00 PM
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